( Photos: TIPA )

The decision to cancel the 2020 Viva Fresh Expo was a tough decision to make, but was the right thing to do, said Dante Galeazzi, president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association.

The event, which had been set for April 30 to May 2, was called off due to health concerns from new coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.

The event had been sold out on the exhibit floor, with about 2,000 attendees and several hundred buyers expected.

“It was a very tough discussion,” said Galeazzi. “We looked at a lot of different scenarios and we really wanted to postpone, but we just realized there’s no other option for us to cancel.”

The event was first postponed on March 12 and then canceled on March 16.

“At the time when we announced postponement, about 50% of the people understood (the postponement) and about 50% of the people thought we were overreacting to the situation,” Galeazzi said.

“As the situation proceeded, when we started seeing everything happen and the rapid escalation of the number of positives, all the new travel policies, and the way that the virus moved, the evidence became very quickly overwhelming,” he said. 

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The decision to cancel was disappointing and disheartening but was the right move, he said. 

“At the end of the day, we can’t promote and sell (these healthy products) and then go on and do something that is contrary to that and host an event when we are aware of all these concerns.”

If the show would have been postponed, the timing of the event relative to other industry shows was a consideration. In addition, a later date may not have allowed the show to highlight seasonal production from Texas and Mexican suppliers.

Those considerations were combined with the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the evolving coronavirus outbreak could persist in the U.S. for several more months contributed to this decision.

Staying power

While the Viva Fresh show didn’t happen in 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Texas industry leaders say its spot in the universe of valuable produce shows is secure.

The 2021 event will be March 23-28 at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas.

“It has gotten to be a really great show and I believe that it’s because of the area that we’re in,” said Mary Velasquez, director of marketing and sales for Coast Tropical, McAllen, Texas. “I think people want to know who their suppliers are and what quality they had and what else they have to offer,” she said.

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Velasquez said the show give buyers and suppliers the time to connect in a way that few if any other shows can do.

Jed Murray, with Tenaza Organics, McAllen, said he is proud of the fact that Viva Fresh is important for all parts of the supply chain.

“I’m pretty proud of the fact that we’re able to make everything very accessible to all people,” Murray said. “If you’re a retailer, if you’re a grower, if you’re a wholesaler, the get-to-know-you events are very accessible to everybody.”

Murray said he had friends from Mexico who in 2019 could not believe how easy-going the events were.

“(Viva Fresh) gives the ability to meet a buyer from ‘x’ company and talk to them and chat with them at the welcome reception,” he said. 

“Everyone was very open and relaxed receptive, and so that that’s something I’m proud of.”

Murry said education is a key component and will be critical for every Viva Fresh.

“The big thing is education because you can go anywhere and slap somebody on the back and have a drink together with them, and we do that really well,” he said. “But education is important and I think that is something that will be a draw for retail.” 

That in turn, helps add value to the event for suppliers.

Buyer participation has made the show what it is, said Bret Erickson, senior vice president of business affairs at J&D Produce Inc., Edinburg, Texas.

“The number one barometer of a successful event is if you’re attracting buyers, because they’re the ones that are driving the rest of us all the way through the supply chain and through the allied industries that support us,” he said. “We continue to see growth in participation from retail and food service at the show.” 

What’s more, buyers are coming in sooner and staying longer, and that’s a testament to the quality programming at the show.

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Organizers of the show say they continue to work to make the show reflect the Tex-Mex corridor.

“Ultimately, we want to be 100% truly Tex-Mex corridor suppliers on that show floor, and each year that goes by, we continue to get closer and closer to that goal,” Erickson said. “We’re really focused on making the show successful for those people whose livelihoods, whose base is the Tex-Mex corridor.” 

Another key part of the show is delivering a message of health and wellness, Erickson said, playing on the importance of fruits and vegetables in improving health.

The show manages to maintain an intimate feel over the span of two and a half days, Erickson said. 

“It’s really about keeping that ratio of buyers to suppliers really manageable so that everybody has the opportunity to network and have meaningful conversations.” 

Tommy Wilkins, director of sales for Grow Farms Texas, Donna, said that limiting the show to suppliers of produce from Texas or Mexico has been a good move, but painful in a way.

“We closed the opportunity to have some of the people that want to exhibit at the show, but that’s what the retailers and foodservice (buyers) asked for, and we we were able to pull that off,” he said. 

The show also allows buyers to meet suppliers from Mexico that would not otherwise not be possible.

“(Buyers) can’t travel to Mexico too much and so we’re bringing Mexico to them,” he said.

“We’re really trying to focus the entire show on what is sourced and loaded in (Texas).”

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